More on the 2015 NUS / Change Agents / HEA survey

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I commented yesterday on the latest 2015 survey of student and employer attitudes towards (and skills for) sustainable development in HE.  HEA has managed to overcome its institutional malaise and published it (sort of) – inexplicably you still cannot download the whole report.

What follows is a comment on point 4 in the executive summary (which I have broken up into 4 statements):

[1] There is a continued desire among students for a reframing of curriculum content, rather than additional content or courses 

[2] Only approximately half of respondents currently identified their courses as a source of skills development across the range of skills for sustainable development

[3] Most believe these skills had been developed through their everyday lives  

[4] A notable exception is understanding people’s relationship to nature, which continues to lack coverage in all contexts

[1] seems clear – no courses on sustainable development thank you very much.  This is a blow to SD fundamentalists, but that's their problem.

[2] seems a reasonable conclusion, given what we know of what goes on in HE.  Actually, we know increasingly little about this, but that's another matter.  But it begs a question about what these 'skills for sustainable development' are.

[3] seems to say more about these, so-called, skills for sustainable development than about HE's approach to them.  If they really can (as students seem to think) be developed through everyday life, then why should HE (or any of us) bother?  Actually, what it really suggests is that the skills in question are a motley grab-bag of ideas that are conceptually confused.

[4] is so important that I'll write about it separately.

NUS's response to all this is to suddenly start talking about ESD and to say that more of it is needed, which suggests that they've not read their own data very carefully.  They say:

"Reviews of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) within the UK carried out during the UNESCO Decade for Education for Sustainable Development highlighted the often small scale and uneven incorporation of sustainability across the education sector.  The consistency of the survey results, such as the demand to learn more about sustainable development, seen across five years of research could be seen as an indication that the reorientation of higher education towards comprehensive inclusion of education for sustainable development is making slow progress across the sector as a whole.  Significant leadership is needed at all levels within the UK’s education system to encourage and achieve wider adoption of ESD."

And one of their recommendations is that academics should "make use of the QAA / HEA ESD guidance".

This seems to misunderstand why academics do what they do.  By and large, they do not sit around waiting for august bodies like UNESCO (or completely useless ones like the QAA) to produce guidelines on abstractions like ESD, so they can then begin to do something.  Rather, they will have been doing it themselves because it makes conceptual, contextual and contingent sense for them to do it; in other words, because it's in their students' best interests.  NUS should be setting out to ease this process, not telling academics they're not doing it properly.







Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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